Natalie and I met with our college archivist last week to get a tour of our archives. Essentially our library’s special collection consists of three parts: the local archives, the Geneseo College Records/ Wadsworth Papers archives, and the rare books collection. While leading us around, the archivist pointed out maps, legal papers, catalogs of farmers and their properties, and so much more. The archives were almost magical in the ways the book spines were degrading, how close the shelves were to each other, and how specially these books were treated, being kept in a glass case and handled with trained hands. It was a wonderful tour, and I think I’ll get more enamored with the special archives as this class/ project processes.
We discussed 4 locations for our project: Letchworth Park, Consesus Lake, the Genesee canal, and collapsed portion of the old salt mine.
Letchworth Park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” and it is the obvious first choice for a nature writing project. It’s a beautiful valley cut through by the Genesee river, full of trees, rocks, waterfalls, and the occasional landslide. In the archives there are some letters from the man that donated the land and who the park gets it’s name from. The downside, though, is that it’s been written about and studied a lot, and it might be difficult to write a new perspective on the park.
Consesus Lake is one of the finger lakes in NY and is located closely to Geneseo. Given it’s easy access (many students will rent apartments on the lake instead of in the town, because the commute is only about 10 minutes), we’d be able to do a lot of field work with the lake. Additionally, we could take oral histories of it from professors that have lived in the area for a long time. There’s one geology professor I know, who claimed to have skated the length of the lake once when it was frozen over. The lake, like many of the lakes in New York, is home to invasive zebra mussels, which would allow us to take a “humans changing environments” approach to the piece.
The Genesee Valley Canal, which was turned into a railroad and then renovated into a road, is another option that we’re considering. All iterations of the canal follow the idea of human imposing features into nature for the sake of convenience (in this case, for transportation), but I’m interested in the ways a canal varies from a railroad and varies from a road. The library has an archive of photos for us to start the project, and I’d be interested to dig through maps to catch the progression of the Genesee Valley Canal through its different transportation phases. Plus, the expansiveness of the road, remaining canal, and locks, would be give us a variety of places to our field work, which is exciting.
The last site idea we have in mind was the collapsed section of the old salt mine. Geneseo is known for it’s Salt Mine, and that company is closely tied to the geology department, making it personally interesting to me. The American Rock Salt Company currently owns the active mine in Geneseo, but in the 1990’s another company owned a salt mine in Restoff, NY that collapsed, causing (or, as they say, due to) an earthquake. My understanding is that this collapse created a pond and flooded out the rest of the mine. The pond, I think, is still around and can be found on google images. The archivist showed us a section of papers, both legal and scientific that are about the salt mine collapse and can be used for the project.
Out of these four, my top two site locations are the Genesee Valley Canal and the collapsed salt mine. Between these too, I’m more interested in the salt mine, because I can see a conflict between different branches of scientists in it discussing its collapse, conflict between the miners and the corporation, and conflict between appreciating and abusing nature. I also think it’d be interesting to explore how the excavating of natural materials caused a pond to occur, and I’m interested to see how this pond varies from naturally occurring ponds. I have some hesitations with doing this project, though, given how it doesn’t seem very accessible for field work. I’d be happy to do the Genesee Valley Canal, though, because I like the idea of seeing how man-made structures change over time, and to see if that has an effect on the landscape. Of course, I’d be thrilled to do either project!